Ginger is the earthy, spicy flavor that’s essential for many cocktails, like the Moscow Mule or Dark and Stormy. This flavor is often added to drinks in the form of non-alcoholic ginger ale or ginger beer. But there are other options that give your drink that ginger kick, with an added punch of alcohol–enter ginger liqueurs.
“You want to have ginger liqueur in your bar because it will expand the range of cocktails you can make tremendously and spice up your cocktail game—pun, intended,” says Josh Morton, founder of Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur, based in Brooklyn, New York.
Interested in experimenting with the flavorful root? Here’s everything you need to know about ginger liqueurs.
What Is Ginger?
Before we get to ginger liqueurs, let’s start with the flavor itself. Ginger comes from the Zingiber officinale plant that’s native to Asia and has leafy stems and yellowish-green flowers. The rhizome, or the ginger root, is what’s most commonly used as the spice. It can be purchased in the fresh form as the full root or as a dried, powdered form.
For centuries, ginger has been used for medicinal purposes, especially for relieving gastrointestinal issues, like nausea and bloating. It is also thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Today, ginger adds flavor to tea, candy, gingerbread and is an essential ingredient in many dishes and drinks.
What Is a Ginger Liqueur?
Liqueur is a spirit that has additional sweetness or spiciness added to its base alcohol. Ginger liqueurs are flavored with spice, but the exact processes, base spirits and sweetness levels vary by brand.
For instance, Barrow’s, which debuted in 2013, uses a blend of Peruvian and Hawaiian ginger, says Morton. The ginger is chopped up and left to macerate at room temperature in a 190-proof neutral cane spirit for at least a month. The mix is pressed to remove the liquid and the infused liquor is blended with a lower-sugar simple syrup. Then, it undergoes a racking process, like wine.
The result is a 22% alcohol-by-volume (abv) liqueur with a cloudy appearance, due to the product not being strained, says Morton.
Another spirit, The King’s Ginger, has evolved from a 1903 recipe created for King Edward VII of England. It’s made from a neutral-based grain spirit, ginger, lemon oil, sugar and Scotch.
Whereas Domaine de Canton, which launched in 2007 and is made in France, uses baby ginger, combined with vanilla beans and honey. Its base spirit is Cognac and is 28% abv.
How to Use Ginger Liqueur
Ginger spirits are versatile. Dominic Alling, brand ambassador for Mount Gay Rum, says the liqueur goes with all kinds of other spirits and brings a unique flavor to many different cocktails. The liqueurs are also often used to add sweetness or replace other sweeteners, like simple syrup, according to Morton.
Need some ideas to break open your bottle? Try these cocktail recipes, straight from bar experts.
Mix up Some Moscow Mules
A classic Moscow Mule features ginger beer, but you can replace it with ginger liqueur, says Alex Cajuste, beverage director at Steak Frites Bistro in New York City. Start with one part ginger liqueur to two parts vodka, and adjust the flavor from there. Then, top it off with sparkling water to get the fizz you’re looking for.
“Ginger is one of my favorite spices for its healing virtues, its taste and the character it brings to any dish or drink.” Alling also says you can swap the vodka for rum to make a rum mule. The rum-ginger pairing “brings out different flavors of both the liqueur and the spirit,” he says.
Pair It with Citrus
Ginger and citrus are a flavorful pair. Ivan Papic, beverage director at Sweetbriar in New York City, likes adding ginger liqueur to a classic Paloma, which blends tequila, lime and grapefruit. “It plays really well with brown spirits and aged tequilas,” he says, adding that he also likes to incorporate ginger liqueur in an Old Fashioned.
One of Alling’s favorite citrus-ginger cocktails is the Speightstown Punch. In a glass, mix 1-ounce rum, ¾-ounce fresh grapefruit juice, ¾-ounce ginger liqueur and 1.5-ounce mint green tea. Serve over ice.
Morton also suggests adding an ounce of ginger liqueur to a classic mimosa or margarita.
Try a Chicago Mistake Cocktail
A twist on a Manhattan, the Chicago Mistake is made by stirring 2 ounces of ginger liqueur, 1-ounce punt e mes (a dark brown Italian vermouth, but you can sub Cynar or Dolan white vermouth), 5 dashes Angostura bitters and 5 dashes of orange bitters. Serve over ice.
Leaving out the whiskey makes it a low-proof cocktail but one that still has a “rich flavor profile,” says Morton.
Make a Penicillin Cocktail
The Penicillin is a classic cocktail traditionally made with Scotch, lemon juice and honey-ginger syrup. Morton suggests making the drink with ginger liqueur instead of syrup for a different take.
Sip as a Digestif or Aperitif
A refreshing pre-dinner drink, or aperitif, that Cajuste enjoys is lemonade with ginger liqueur, fresh lemon juice and water or seltzer.
Papic likes to sip ginger liqueur with seltzer and fresh mint, which he says is “very refreshing and low-abv. Perfect for summer months.”
Drinking a small amount of ginger liqueur after dinner as a digestif is another option. “On a cold night, I could do it as a shot just to get the blood flow going,” says Cajuste.